While parts of the country are beginning to open up, a majority of the workforce is still working remotely, which has many missing the face-to-face interaction with their colleagues. 

Sure, there are virtual meetings, but it’s not the same as some of those more personal conversations that take place in breakrooms and outside the board room. 

It’s something that is familiar to Molly Miller, who is a quality and outcomes specialist for Encompass Health – Home Health & Hospice. She’s based in Tampa, Florida. However, her team members are located throughout the country.

Virtual meetings are nothing new to them. “My boss mentioned that we were Zooming before Zoom was cool,” Miller said. The virtual meeting platform has surged in popularity since the COVID-19 pandemic forced non-essential employees to leave their workplaces and shelter at home. 

About a year and a half ago, Miller said they decided to use Zoom to connect on a more personal level and started a book club.

“We only see each other in person about four times a year,” she said. “It was at one of those meetings that we all decided this is something we could do to stay connected and cohesive.”

Getting started

The first order of business was coming up with a name. The team of about 10 brainstormed and threw out several suggestions. Then their supervisor sent out an online survey for a vote. 

They landed on The G.R.E.A.­T. Book Club—Girlfriends Reading, Educating and Achieving Together.

Finding a name was a good bit easier than choosing a time that would work for everyone. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the team members traveled about 75 percent of the time. They also work in different time zones.

They settled on lunchtime, noon central to be specific, and kept it to a half hour, every other week. 

“We go deep really fast,” Miller said. “And, what happens in book club stays in book club.”

Keeping it going

When the G.R.E.A.T. Book Club first started meeting there were consistently 10 to 12 joining each time. However, after a few months, participation started dwindling. 

“Not everybody can make it every time, which is fine, but it was starting to be where we’d get on the call, and it was only like two or three people,” Miller said.

The first book they read, “Girl Wash Your Face,” by Rachel Hollis, was a big hit among everyone, but some that followed weren’t as riveting to all, and many just didn’t have time to finish the book.

They thought about calling it quits, but before giving in, Miller said they changed up the format. Instead of books, the host of each meeting—they rotate among the team—would instead bring an article, video or podcast of something that interests them to discuss with the group. 

“We all have different backgrounds and interests and this can be whatever that person wants to share with the group,” Miller said. “We’ve done topics like gut health, optimism, and next we’re going to talk about what is our favorite charity and why.”

The new format has the entire group engaged once again, and it’s also helped them get to know their teammates on another level.

The benefits

The original goal of their virtual book club was to get to know each other outside of their roles at work. Miller said even though it’s just 30 minutes, it’s accomplished that.

“It’s really helped us bond,” she said. “We’re all really supportive of each other and are a close group.”

It’s also helped in understanding what motivates and inspires one another, and during this time of COVID-19 and sheltering at home, it’s served as a time to vent their frustrations as well as share what they are grateful for.

Miller said with travel halted at this time, they’re even thinking of adding a new virtual meeting for the team—a virtual happy hour, which would take place afterhours, of course.

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